If you have read the UK sports pages this week you will have done well not to find words of praise for David Moyes, who on Saturday takes charge of his 500th Everton FC game away to Bolton Wanderers FC in the FA Cup fourth round.
Only Harry Catterick oversaw more matches (592) during a single spell as Everton manager, from 1961–73, when his Mersey Millionaires captured two English league championships and an FA Cup. Moyes, nearly 11 years in the job, still has to bring silverware to Goodison Park yet his achievements hold a value of their own.
The 49-year-old Glaswegian was appointed in March 2002, with Everton – their 1995 FA Cup win excepted – having spent the worst part of a decade in decline. Moyes was one of the game's bright young bosses after leading Preston North End FC from the third division to within 90 minutes of the Premier League; Preston lost that promotion play-off, so it has been with another venerable footballing institution that Moyes has made his mark.
Under his tutelage, Everton have been the sixth-best team in England in terms of points won, finishing seventh or higher in seven of the Scot's ten full campaigns at the helm, with fourth place in 2004/05 the pinnacle. Their FA Cup final and UEFA Champions League play-off appearances were tainted by defeat, however.
One reporter wrote this week that Everton would be serious title contenders under Moyes in any other era of the national game. After all, the Blues' record of nine championships is bettered by only Manchester United FC, Liverpool FC and Arsenal FC; cyclical success is in the Goodison DNA. And Moyes, with his steely will and attention to detail, certainly evokes those master team builders of football past who grabbed hold of clubs and drove them to unforeseen heights.
However, with Everton owned by Liverpool-born theatre impresario Bill Kenwright in an age of foreign billionaires, frustrating transfer windows have been a recurring theme of Moyes's tenure. These have often interrupted Everton's development, causing slow starts to seasons; once they get going, though, a Moyes side can be hard to stop. The good news this term is that the Toffees, with just three defeats in their last 32 league matches, are already fifth in the table, three points off fourth, and equally keen to progress in the FA Cup.
It could prove a defining campaign. Named manager of the year three times by his peers (2003, 2005 and 2009), Moyes's contract expires this summer, though talks on a new deal are promised shortly. Whatever the outcome, his Everton legacy looks secure. If his predecessors applied the club's Latin motto of Nil Satis Nisi Optimum (nothing satisfies but the best) in lifting trophies, he has done so in creating a culture of excellence in which only the very best from every member of staff will do.
Moreover, in consistently making signings you would describe as 'low cost, low maintenance but high yield', he has not just made a virtue of financial necessity but has positively invited a cause for canonisation. While the home-grown Wayne Rooney alighted early, many Moyes proteges stayed for the ride, with Goodison witnessing the best years of Thomas Gravesen, Tim Cahill, Mikel Arteta and Steven Pienaar, plus three defenders the manager helped turn into England internationals – Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka and Leighton Baines.
Add to endemic loyalty Moyes's honesty and integrity, and Everton – appropriately for European top-flight football's longest-serving club – state a strong case for the game's traditional values. If nothing else under Moyes, it has been a moral victory.
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